Hunters stalking deer in north-central Missouri will come across new regulations and guidelines aimed at curbing a deadly deer disease for the first time this season.
After the discovery of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) — a syndrome similar to Mad Cow Disease that affects cervids such as deer, elk and moose — was discovered in Missouri’s wild deer earlier this year, The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) has initiated new regulations and guidelines within a six-county “CWD Management Zone” to help contain the spread of the disease.
The management zone includes Sullivan, Adair, Linn, Macon, Chariton, and Randolph Counties.
According to the Department of Health and Senior Services, the syndrome has not yet been scientifically shown to affect humans. The Missouri Department of Agriculture reported that livestock and house pets are also scientifically safe from infection.
Within the “CWD Management Zone,” steps to help halt the spread of the disease start with the removal of antler point restrictions.
According to MDC, rescinding antler-point restrictions within the six-county management zone allows for more killing of younger bucks.
The department reported bucks are more likely to carry CWD as the stags are more likely to interact with potentially infected deer through fall mating activities and their search for territory.
“I think in many situations people are passing on younger bucks as standard practice,” said Jason Sumners, a deer biologist for MDC.
He said he doesn’t anticipate a great increase in the yearling harvest due to the relaxed restriction and the department isn’t condoning a mass killing of younger bucks.
“We’ll see a few more yearling bucks shot,” Sumners said.
MDC has also issued “CWD Management Seals” to 80 landowners in southeast Linn and northwest Macon County within a 29 section, or roughly one mile, area where CWD positive captive and wild deer have been previously found.
The seals allow for those landowners, or hunters whom the landowner permits, to kill an additional five antlered or antlerless deer in the 29-section area.
“It is a very small targeted approach,” Sumners said. “It’s not a dramatic attempt to reduce deer populations over a large geographical area.”
Also new this year according to the department is the availability to use muzzle-loading firearms, longbows, atlatls, center-fire pistols or revolvers, and air-powered guns during the traditional muzzleloader portion of the hunt.
Help from hunters is expected from MDC’s recommendation that whole deer not be removed from the management zone, except when:
• Meat has been cut and wrapped
• Meat has been boned-out
• Quarters and other portions of deer have had all parts of the spinal column and head removed
• Hides and capes have had excess tissue removed
• Antlers or antlers attached to skull plates have had muscle and brain tissue removed
Upper canine teeth and finished taxidermy products require no special attention for removal from the zone.
Although having no effect on hunters, another regulatory precaution is a restriction on the recreational placement of feed and minerals or salts for deer, of which according to MDC unnaturally concentrates deer in a central location. This concentration of deer then allows for a more rapid spread of the disease.
In August, the MDC Conservation Commission, the governing body of the department, recommended the suspension of permits to new deer breeders and new big-game hunting operations, where hunters pay to hunt captive animals. MDC is currently accepting public comment.
In the recommendation, the existing 277 wildlife breeders and 27 captive hunting operations will not be suspect to permit suspensions.
According to MDC, in February 2010, Missouri’s first case of the disease was identified in a captive white-tailed deer at Heartland Wildlife Ranch, a captive hunting operation, located in southeast Linn County.
After the February 2010 discovery, MDC tested about 1,000 wild deer in the region but found no trace of the disease.
At a separate Heartland Wildlife Ranch in northwest Macon County under the same ownership, an additional case of the disease in a captive deer surfaced in October 2011 with another positive case found at the Macon-County ranch in December 2011.
Additional testing of about 1,000 wild deer in Linn and Macon County yielded Missouri’s first two cases of the disease in adult bucks.
The first two infected wild bucks were killed during the fall 2011 firearms season within two miles of the infected Macon County Heartland Wildlife Ranch.
Since June, eight additional cases of the disease have been identified in captive deer at the Macon County Ranch.
Three more wild cases of the syndrome have been found in close proximity to the Macon County ranch, bringing the number to five infected wild deer.
CWD is spread from deer to deer via nose-to-nose contact or other social interactions, as well as contact with urine or fecal matter, or contact with infected soil. The disease can remain in soil an unknown period of time.
According to the Missouri Department of Conservation, the disease is fatal to cervids and may take at least 18 months for clinical signs of the syndrome to appear. According to MDC, those signs include:
• A lack of fear toward humans
• Signs of weakness
• A droopy head or ears
• Difficulty in swallowing
• Excessive salivation
• Loss of coordination and inability to stand
• Diminished muscle tone in the faces of deer
• Severe emaciation and dehydration.
Since 2002, MDC has tested more than 35,000 deer in its efforts to monitor the disease. There is currently no way for individuals to have their deer tested in Missouri. However, MDC is working with hunters so they can submit samples at no charge. Find your local conservation agent at www.mdc.mo.gov or consult MDC’s 2012 Fall Deer and Turkey Hunting Regulation Guide for more information about submitting samples.
“Hunter submitted samples are critical to the monitoring of the disease but it’s very important in the CWD core zone that we maintain cooperation with those landowners,” Sumners said.
According to MDC, more than 500,000 hunters help keep Missouri’s deer herd in check, spending more than $690 million directly to state and local economies in the process — the monies add up to about $1 billion of business activity in Missouri from deer.